Yes, you can install a VPN directly on your router. Before you do, however, you should understand what router VPN does and does not do. You should also be aware that the installation can be either simple or difficult, depending on which specific VPN and router you have.
Why a VPN
A virtual private network, or VPN, creates an encrypted channel between your internet device and a server that belongs to the company you bought your VPN from. Your traffic to the internet appears to come from that server instead of your own device. This creates some privacy advantages. Anyone who intercepts traffic from your laptop or phone will see an unreadable encrypted stream. Your ISP can’t pry into what you’re doing. When your transmission hits the internet, no one can tell it came from you.
Why a Router VPN
To get this protection without router VPN, you have to install VPN on every device you use, from your tablets to your phones to your smart TV. Guests who use your wifi aren’t protected unless they have their own VPN.
With VPN on the router, all connected devices get VPN protection, because they can’t go through your router without creating that encrypted channel to your VPN server. That includes all your smart home devices, and many of them aren’t set up to fully use VPN software on their own.
Router VPN Limitations
Why, then, wouldn’t you just go ahead and install router VPN if it protects every device you use? Well, the biggest reason is that is doesn’t protect your phone or laptop when you’re away from home and hooked up to someone else’s wifi. The security of routers in public places can be notoriously lax, so those locations are where you may need VPN the most.
Also, the transmissions between your laptop and your router are not encrypted, although that’s not much risk if you have password-secured wifi.
Another drawback is that router VPN can be difficult to manage. You’ll have to log in to your router through a facility such as a Windows power shell by entering commands that aren’t particularly obvious or user-friendly. Once you’re at your router’s controls, you may find limitations in how you can configure VPN, for example, restrictions on which encryption protocols you can use.
Finally, depending on your VPN and router, installing router VPN may not be easy.
Installing Router VPN
Some newer routers come with VPN preinstalled. Others support connection to VPN services; however, routers marketed to consumers usually don’t have this. Some VPNs have built their products to install easily on certain routers; they provide a compatibility list.
An internet search on your router will tell you which VPNs it’s compatible with. Routers provided by ISPs are generally not VPN-friendly.
VPN on Both Device and Router
You can make sure you’re always protected by installing VPN on both your device and router. However, if you don’t switch off your device VPN at home, you’ll have overlapping VPNs and possible performance degradation. Some people deal with this by setting up two routers at home, one with VPN and one without.